Dear National Grassroots Professionals: Don’t Fight Your State/Regional Affiliates

by Joshua Habursky // Oct 06, 2015 Grassroots

Businessmen fighting in the office

So, you run your organization’s national grassroots program from a major hub, like D.C., but you’ve got affiliates with whom you don’t always get along.

I would advise you not to pick on your younger sibling affiliates. You need them more than you realize.

Many national trade associations, membership associations, and non-profit organizations have state or regional affiliates. These affiliates have many different organizational structures, from leagues and markets to state chapters and local districts.

If you are working in, say, the nation’s capital, managing a national grassroots program, here are several tips toward creating a better relationship with your colleagues at the state or regional level (and hopefully preventing a grassroots advocacy turf war).

Respect Geographical Proximity
From the national perspective, it is best to recognize that the state/regional advocacy professionals are closer to the issues in their state, have cultivated relationships among the policy community, and are better equipped to handle day-to-day issues within their territory.

A good national grassroots professional should recognize that proximity is an important factor in running a successful program, and should thus empower their state/regional counterparts.

At the same time, national grassroots professionals should ensure that the message development and advocate communications are consistent with the organizational goals and established policy priorities.

Message consistency is an important attribute of a successful grassroots program that incorporates both national and state/regional activities.

Let the Locals Track It
If you are a large organization tracking several issues, it’s basically impossible to monitor legislation and regulations at the local, state and federal levels simultaneously.

Similarly, it is nearly impossible to create grassroots alerts and rally advocates on every local, state and federal issue.

Hence, your organization established state or regional entities to facilitate efficient legislative tracking, issue monitoring, and a division of responsibility to foster advocacy activities within a given area.

So let them do it.

The information provided by state/regional affiliates is critical to ensure your organization is actively  participating in most (if not all) activities in your issue area.

Combine Your Wisdom to Their Regional Expertise
State and regional professionals have a level of expertise in their designated area that a national grassroots professional cannot possess.

A national grassroots leader should listen intently to the advice of her state/regional colleagues and make decisions informed by that input.

Some organizational structures have a top-down hierarchical structure, where the national organization directs the states/regional entities, while other organizations have nearly autonomous state/regional affiliates. In either scenario, recognition of expertise by both parties is necessary for a successful overall advocacy strategy.

National leaders will often participate in some facet of state/regional advocacy, but often their biggest contribution is providing tactical expertise and knowledge in leveraging a variety of techniques to optimize campaigns across channels.

Be Resourceful and Provide Resources
A national grassroots leader builds credibility and trust with state/regional affiliates when she can be a useful resource to her affiliates. The national level will almost always have more financial and human resources than the local chapter, which can be deployed to produce research papers, provide statistics, and create digital and print resources for their affiliates.

Affiliates who can rely on their national grassroots leader to provide these critical advocacy resources are happy affiliates. A good national grassroots leader should build the tools necessary for affiliate advocacy programs, both online and offline.

If enough affiliates request the same materials again and again, it might be worth committing to providing and maintaining those resources as part of your national grassroots program.

Commit to a Recurring Dialogue
Probably the main ingredient to preventing a turf war between national and affiliate branches of an organization is effective communication.

Regular and scheduled communication forums can work wonders to prevent animosity within an advocacy program. Conference calls, trainings and webinars will also aide in message consistency and in building relationships.

Face-to-face personal meetings work best, but any regular interaction between the two levels will make your advocacy program more focused.

Further, when disagreements do happen (and they will; it’s only natural), you’ve established a civil communication channel through which to mitigate disagreements and settle disputes.

Joshua Habursky is the Senior Manager of Grassroots Advocacy and Internal Engagement at the American Diabetes Association

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